Tag Archives: biomedical

Seal Tissues, Antioxidants, and -80 Degree Freezers

Research Project

The Weddell Seal is able to hold its breath for 30 minutes at a time while diving in frigid Antarctic waters. To avoid running out of oxygen during this long dive, the seal collapses its lungs and restricts blood to only essential organs. In other mammals, the process of cutting off blood flow and the supply of oxygen to a tissue, only to reoxygenate those tissues at a later point (when the seal resurfaces) generates reactive oxygen species. The process causes oxidative stress, which damages the tissue. This summer I am studying some of the physiological adaptations that enable Weddell seals to avoid the detrimental effects of oxidative stress at a cellular level. At the moment I am focusing on catalase, an antioxidant enzyme that is good at breaking down hydrogen peroxide (a reactive oxygen species), to see if its activity is higher in seal tissues than in other mammals. The long-term goal of this research is to apply our understanding of how seals cope with oxidative stress to human organ transplants.

Realities of Research

This is my first time working in a lab so most everything has been entirely new to me, from the constant buzz of the -80 degree freezers to the techniques of growing cells to the precise technology. Besides learning many science skills, I’ve spent the last several weeks seeing how rare (and exciting!) it is for an experiment to work and yield significant results. Fingers crossed for the rest of my project!

Life of a Scientist

Besides working on my own research, I’ve been involved in numerous projects throughout the lab, so I’ve seen how research questions evolve and overlap and shift as researchers collaborate with one another. The aspect of collaboration within my lab has been one of the coolest things to witness this summer, especially since each researcher is doing distinct work. I’ve also loved getting to know my coworkers, and we’ve had cool conversations about new scientific discoveries and endless career options.

Throughout the summer, I’ve really appreciated being able to hold on to a big picture – of the real, live seals – even as I work at the microscopic, cellular level. I think this seal research is pretty darn cool.


Eliza Skoler is a senior Biology major and Neuroscience minor at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. She is a 2018 UGSRF fellow working in Dr. Allyson Hindle’s lab at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She plans to pursue a career in public health.
My Summer of Scientific Research

Over the summer I have been working at Emory University with Dr. Tansey and other lab members looking for potential causes of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Parkinson’s disease is an illness that damages important parts of the brain and nervous system. This can cause a loss in efficient body movement. We believe that a specific protein, something that the body naturally makes, called LRRK2 may play a role in this disease because there is an increased amount found in PD patients compared to healthy controls. Therefore, we have studied this protein by trying to pin point its location in the body and learning how it causes other PD symptoms such as inflammation. This research will not only provide answers for PD, but can be used to learn more about other neurodegenerative diseases. The goal is to one day cure such debilitating illnesses for everyone who is unfortunate to develop them.

Realities of Research

One of the biggest things I have learned about working in a lab is that your plan of action can suddenly change, while the goal stays the same. However, there are many times where you must go back to the “drawing board” and erase or insert something new. To me, going back and finding out that you have to try something new is a good thing. You are improving on your research and hopefully it will bring you closer to significant results. I also had other learning opportunities such as improving on specific lab techniques. During my BCA assay (Bicinchoninic Acid assay), which is a protocol used to standardize amounts of proteins in a sample, I had to perfect my pipetting skills for the assay to work. I practiced for hours to get the exact amount of solution every time I withdrew from a tube before I actually ran the real assay. This summer, my project started off bumpy because of an experiment not going as planned. I was taking tissue sections of kidney to stain and investigate for the colocalization of LRRK2 with the primary regulator NFAT (Nuclear Factor of Activated T-cells) and pNFAT (NFAT promoter) status in the nucleus. We were looking at these specific cells because they are involved with the immune system which LRRK2 seems to help regulate. However, after my staining protocol, the kidney cells would essentially combust. After many days of trial and error, we decided that there was not enough knowledge of kidney staining in our lab, and instead of spending time and resources to figure it out we moved on and started looking at a new location. There were plenty of times where we had to re-evaluate our plan, and as I said before I only see them as learning opportunities. Sometimes research is not always going to be straight forward where you make a hypothesis, go through an experiment, and at the end collect an answer. It can take a lot of time and creative thinking to get where you need to go.

Damaged kidney cells.

Life of a Scientist

Being a part of a lab is great for many reasons. One reason is that I prefer the type of work style that it offers. Those aspects include being able to have flexibility within your schedule and not having to be constantly micromanaged. Yet, I am still offered enough guidance to steer me on the right track. I love that every day is another day pushing towards a goal that you most likely had a hand in setting. I am also surrounded by people who all want to see each other succeed. Although everyone in the lab may be working on their own personal agendas, people are constantly helping others with their projects whether it’s by lending their skills for a certain assay or giving an extra hand to make timely experiments go by faster. I would go on to say that the entire science community within your field begins to feel more familiar as your work progresses, as well. I value this idea of a connected community within my workspace. Overall, my experiences in my lab this summer were positive and resourceful. Of course, I have witnessed complications occurring in the lab such as assays not going as planned or having to re-due them because of minor mistakes. Human error constantly occurs and I have learned that you can only work with it and make sure to try as hard as possible to get accurate, significant results. Knowing that I could make a career into doing what I love, conducting science and answering important questions that benefit humanity, gives me the motivation of becoming a neurologist in the future.

Chayla Vazquez is a rising junior at Emory University in Atlanta, GA where she is majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, with a minor in Ethics. She is working at Emory over the summer with Dr. Malu Tansey as an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow (UGSRF) funded by the American Physiological Society. Chayla strives to become a biomedical scientist and utilize her skills in research to help people who struggle with cognitive defects.